Climate Change

The Eyes of the Young

By Brooke Larsen

This piece is part of the Red Rock Stories project. The first phase of the project is a chapbook titled "Red Rock Testimony" that Torrey House Press Publisher Kirsten Allen and writer Stephen Trimble will deliver to the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration later this month. Part of Brooke's story is featured on the opening page. The story will also appear in the Red Rock Stories online community in the coming months and Red Rock Stories: Three Generations Speak on Behalf of Utah's Public Lands forthcoming in 2017 by Torrey House Press. 

As I descend the sticky sandstone cliffs into the Dirty Devil wilderness, anxiety seeps over me. Heading into the backcountry for three days makes me stop and run through any unsent emails before leaving cell service behind. Initially, my unease in disconnecting from technology overshadows my relief in reconnecting with nature.  But as a child of the red rock, that feeling quickly fades. My jaw loosens, my eyes come alive, and I howl. I hear the echo as a reminder that I am untamable.

I am in my early twenties. My generation is screen saturated and nature deprived. We find constant connection in our digital world, yet we hunger for depth. Our friendships grow in quantity rather than quality. Our relationship with our self and our environment degrades as our fear of solitude and silence grows. It’s not revolutionary to say my generation needs wilderness more than ever.

I reach the Dirty Devil and sink my feet in the mud at the river’s edge. Joy tingles every inch of my flesh, awakening my wild spirit. For me, few things match the beauty and awe of flowing water in a landscape of red. Even the rivers run red. One could say this landscape is parched earth, but as long as rivers flow, life seems in perfect balance. If I have children, will they also find a flowing Dirty Devil in 50 years?

The forces trying to desecrate this landscape not only leave initial scars, schisms and spills. The oil rigs and natural gas flares contribute to a much more existential threat—climate change. For my generation, it’s impossible to separate the need for wildness from the need for climate justice. Protecting this landscape is not just protecting our human spirit—it’s protecting the future of all life in the region. With daunting climate change predictions, it’s realistic to wonder if the Dirty Devil will still flow for the next generation. The economic, legal and biological ramifications of a water-stressed Colorado River Basin are well known. But what about the spiritual?

Crossing the Dirty Devil River, I head towards the canyons of the Robbers Roost. In popular culture, Robbers Roost is known as the outlaw hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. For desert dwellers, it’s known for its wildness. Here, I follow coyote tracks rather than human footprints. I respect the power of water and wind to carve stories into walls. I experience desperately needed solitude and silence.

The red rock wilderness is my spiritual refuge and teacher of humility. In a society where young people can navigate anywhere with an app, I learn from navigating based on geologic layers and topographic lines. In a culture where we can have food delivered to us in minutes, I learn from planning my survival around the dependability of perennial streams. We realize our own insignificance. We realize our vulnerability.

For me, protecting this place is deeply personal. My family has called Utah home for six generations, but I didn’t grow up with religion. I grew up questioning. My story is written in carved slot canyons and desert washes. Wildness became my spiritual refuge—particularly the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. So if I respect the churches of others, why are the leaders of my state constantly disrespecting mine?

My red rock story is one of self-preservation. As the lands and people around me grow increasingly tamed, I fear I will lose my own wild, human spirit. Each drop of oil extracted digs me into a deeper existential crisis as I wonder if under a changing climate this region will remain livable.

The eyes of young people are closely watching. The spirits of future generations are pleading. The deep time of the red rock inspires hope—from the geologic story told in layers of orange, pink and red to the rock art left by ancestors of Native Americans who still call Bears Ears home. However, increasingly it feels like we are running out of time.

Our leaders must choose between greed and restraint. Our leaders must choose between preserving the American spirit and destroying it. Our leaders must choose a healthy, safe future for their grandchildren or immediate profit for themselves. If we think ethically and compassionately, the decision is not hard. As a young person, I implore you to act wisely and lovingly.

From concrete to ethereal: lessons from the road

BY CLAIRE MARTINI

The Uplift team has returned home from the first round of community conversations. We owe a big “thank you” to those who contributed to the discussion, and we’re inspired to see the broad range of youth-led climate work happening already across the Colorado Plateau!

In Prescott, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Durango, Moab, and Salt Lake City, the climate priorities communities identified were fairly consistent even as the organizing approaches and individuals varied. Young people spoke with care about water use and protection, curbing fossil fuel extraction, protecting wild and sacred spaces, and supporting sustainable communities. Many expressed concern about a non-receptive political climate at a local, regional, and national level. Read more about Uplift’s community conversations, from a reporter’s perspective.

What to do about it? Solutions may lie in ideas ranging from concrete to ethereal: education, networking, creativity, art, protest, community, uncertainty, democracy, affordable housing, restoration, language, traditional knowledge, and more.

Myriad young people are already fighting the good fight. For the people we spoke with, work to address the climate conundrum ranged from protesting at BLM lease auctions to building affordable and sustainable housing. They’re already using innovative ways to reach people, from putting art and creativity at the center, to enhancing inter-generational collaboration.

Here's where Uplift comes in: as a connector between various groups and individuals working across the expanse of the Colorado Plateau.

Meetings were best attended when we had personal connections or made contact with existing networks, and we learned about the areas where we have more work to do building relationships and community. As a group, we aim to highlight and support the amazing work already taking place on the ground, and weave it into a larger story for our region. If you have meaningful opportunities for young people to speak up and engage, whether organizing events, campaigns, rallies, or something else, please let us know and we’ll send it out to our networks! To stay connected on social media, you can find us on Facebook and Instagram.

Looking forward, we’d love for you to join us at the conference August 18-20 in the San Juan National Forest outside Durango, Colorado.

As you probably already suspect, this isn’t your typical “conference.” It’s a celebration of what’s at stake. Uplifters can plan on camping amidst the ponderosa pines for three days of panel discussions, storytelling, and regional break-out groups to help strengthen the work you’re doing, or give you the tools and connections to dive in. We hope you’ll share your presence and ideas at Uplift this August. Please get in touch, because we can’t wait to work together and build community across this wild home of ours.

(If you need support to attend, please let us know, as limited scholarships for registration or travel are available.)

Story: The Most Powerful Renewable Energy

by Brooke Larsen

Storytelling is easier at Kane Ranch—an old homestead nestled in the vast House Rock Valley on the North Rim. The Vermilion Cliffs urge you to speak from the heart, welcome vulnerability, and respect deep time. At the Uplift planning retreat this past November, oil lamps flickered as the Uplift leadership team shared the origins of their love for the Colorado Plateau and an unyielding passion to protect their home.  Story was the focus: we grew closer by sharing our  story of self, the story of us and the story of now.

Recognizing the importance of storytelling for the climate justice movement, Uplift seeks to share climate stories from young people across the Colorado Plateau. In preparation for the Uplift Climate Conference this August in Durango, Colorado, a group of young organizers from Uplift will be traveling from April 29-May 16 holding community conversations across the Colorado Plateau. We want to learn, what does this region mean to you? What agitates you to act on climate?  What are your hopes? What do you love too much to lose?

My climate story is one of self-preservation. My family has called the Colorado Plateau home for six generations. The forests of the Wasatch and the red rock of Southern Utah are my spiritual refuge and teacher of humility. What do I love too much to lose? Burnt orange sand. Rivers that run red. Coyote tracks. Sticky sandstone beneath my soles. Slot canyons with unknown stories. Forgiving aspens. Pink skies at dawn and dusk. Solitude. Vulnerability. Wildness. My self.

A dear friend once told me he could see it in my eyes—they come alive in the red rock wilderness. As the lands and people around me grow increasingly tamed, I fear I will lose my own wild, human spirit. Every new cut, spill, scathe on the red rock leaves a scar on my heart. Every year we tolerate air quality along the Wasatch Front that puts children and the elderly in the hospital and blurs the view of the peaks that ground us in place, I feel trapped in a much more deadly smog—the smog of apathy, greed and injustice.

However, story has power to clear the smog. Our personal stories motivate us, but our shared story sustains us. Climate justice is deeply personal yet so universal—we all have a climate story even if we haven’t articulated it yet. In Uplift, young people find a community that dares to speak from the heart. We howl. We howl with the understanding that we are the daughters and sons of the Coyote Clan.

The organizers of Uplift feel a fierce sense of urgency. As Uplift Coordinator Claire Martini says, “Climate change is the biggest threat to a livable future in the region.” We seek to create a united climate action community across the Colorado Plateau that demands youth voices be heard. We see story sharing as a critical first step. Because it is story that unites us. It is story that makes us a movement, a community, a force.

To share your climate story and connect with other young desert dwellers, find a climate conversation near you. For more information, email uplift@grandcanyontrust.org or follow us on Facebook for important updates!